The thought of working from home is a dream scenario for many workers. No dress code, no commute, no annoying cube mates -- what could be better?
While it certainly has many advantages, working from the comfort of your home does have its drawbacks. For the past four years, I've been working out of my home office. During that time, which has been split between working as a freelancer and author and being on staff full time for Business News Daily, I have come to laud the pluses and rue the minuses of not having to trudge into the office every day.
The biggest downside to working from home is that there isn't a clear separation of work life and home life. It might seem strange to think that your work-life balance isn't optimal when you don't have to spend 8-plus hours in an office each day, but it's true.
When your home is your office, your work is close-by, and there is a constant feeling of always needing to work. It often seems that anytime you are relaxing your work is calling out to you and saying, "Come on, work on me for just a little bit longer. What else are you doing?"
Part of the reason it seems like your work may be talking to you is because you're usually all alone. While co-workers can sometimes get on your nerves, it's nice to have other people around. When you work in an office, there is always someone close-by to bounce ideas off, work through problems, or even just chit-chat with. When you work from home, you don't have that same luxury. It can get lonely and make you feel pretty isolated.
The other major obstacles to working from home are the constant distractions that can lure you away from your assignments and projects. There can be kids running around, laundry that needs to be done, bathrooms that need cleaning or even just the couch calling your name.
To be an effective at-home worker, you need to be able to tune that out and focus on what needs to get done. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to stay focused in that type of environment.
Despite the negatives, I wouldn't want to trade this benefit for anything. I truly love the flexibility that working from home affords. But, you do have to take steps to counterbalance the negatives in order to make it a successful experience.
Here are five tips to help at-home employees offset some of the work-from-home drawbacks.
- Keep in touch: Staying connected to your boss and co-workers is critical. You need to keep in touch with them on a regular and daily basis. This not only reminds you that you are part of a team, but also can give you that outlet to connect with others. Use the communication tools you have at your disposal. I find instant messaging to be a great tool. For me, it's like a digital version of talking over a cubicle wall. I use it to not only stay in touch with my boss every day about what I'm working on, but to also chat with my co-workers about what they're doing over the weekend or where they're headed on vacation. Whether it's a digital tool or even just picking up the phone for a quick call, keeping in touch with your peers is definitely needed to offset the isolation that many work-at-home workers feel.
- Keep work hours: When working from home, I am often tempted to roll out of bed and head straight to my home office. I'll then work all day, take a break for dinner and family time at night, but then return to the office to keep working until heading off to bed. This can really throw your work-life balance out of whack. Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you always have to be working. Talk to your employer about what their expectations are. Even though they are affording you the opportunity to work from home, they probably aren't expecting you to be working 24/7. For your own sanity, it is important to try to keep regular work hours. If you don't, you are going to quickly find yourself burned out.
- Get out of the house: When you're working from home, it can be easy to not leave the house for days. While it's great to not have to trudge into the office each day, it doesn't mean you shouldn't get out. Just because you are working from home, doesn't mean you have to spend every hour there. Whether it's getting out of the house for lunch or working from a local coffee shop one afternoon a week, you would be surprised how much a change in scenery can affect your mood, attitude and productivity.
- Visit the office: If you have the option to visit your office once a week or even once month, I would encourage it. It's good to be able to see your co-workers face-to-face. Not only does it create a better rapport with your peers, but it's also a good reminder for both them and you that you're part of the team. When working from home it's often easy to think that you're all alone, but being able to spend some time with your peers is an excellent way to remember that everyone – and not just you – are working toward a common goal.
- Take advantage of your flexibility: Working from home affords you a lot of flexibility, and it's important to take advantage of it when you can. As long as you are getting some work done, don't be afraid to squeeze in some housework or run out for a quick errand. If you want to spend a day working in pajamas, do it. If you want to spend a sunny day working from your deck, go for it. The key is to stay on top of your work and not let this flexibility get the best of you. If you aren't enjoying any of the benefits of working from home, you might as well be working from the office.
Originally published on Business News Daily